Advice: ‘I’m struggling to survive in the arts and yearn to fight the good fight — should I try to become a barrister?’

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By Alex Aldridge on

The other day I received this email from an Oxford University law graduate…


My instinctive response when I read this was 1) that doing a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to make up for an expired law degree wouldn’t be a great way to spend a year of your life, and 2) that the author’s motivations don’t seem to be of the solid, law-loving type that tend to mark out successful members of the Bar.

“I’d rather be a barrister than work in a call centre” is a line that sets off the alarm bells, as does, to be frank, the dream of “fighting the good fight” while keeping up with the art and publishing practice.

But, then again, “S” did have the brains to get into Oxford and, as a law graduate, obviously knows about the law. So I asked 1 Crown Office Row human rights barrister Adam Wagner what he thought…

Here’s Adam’s advice:

“I would say an Oxford 2:1 is enough to get a foot in the door, despite the gap. The person really needs to want it though — there will be at least a few more years of financial uncertainty to come, and some big loans, before the career starts to happen. And even then, the human rights Bar is shrinking significantly due to funding cuts so unless you would be happy to keep an open mind about what area you practise in, I wouldn’t bother.

As to writing during your career at the Bar. I have managed it and still write fairly regularly for newspapers, magazines and I also edit the UK Human Rights Blog. The upside is that you can maintain two passions, one slightly better paying than the other! The downside is that you will need to be an incredibly organised and hardworking person to see any daylight at all from a full-time career at the Bar.

Closing comments: do lots of work experience — both at the Bar and at solicitors’ firms — and decide whether you think this is something you would love to do. Be realistic and open minded. Good luck.”